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Designing by doing: building bridges in the highlands of Borneo

Ewart, I. (2013) Designing by doing: building bridges in the highlands of Borneo. In: Gunn, W., Otto, T. and Smith, R. C. (eds.) Design Anthropology: Theory and Practice. Bloomsbury, London, pp. 85-99. ISBN 9780857853691

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My intention in this chapter is to champion the role of the producer as designer. As an engineer-turned-anthropologist, it seems to me to be something of a folly to attempt to isolate the process of design from that of production, as much as it is to separate out and valorise consumption (Miller 1995) over the creative activity that necessarily precedes it. An ongoing fascination in anthropology with design and consumption makes it difficult to position production, especially of the sort in focus here, namely what we might call an anthropology of engineering. Engineering is a specific form of activity, which I suggest can be defined as the communal production of large-scale or complex objects. This generic definition removes engineering from its popular perception as being somehow uniquely Western and industrialized, and as I show below, allows us to reconsider what constitutes production, and what, by unhelpful contrast, often separately constitutes design or consumption. My broader aim is to envisage engineering (communal, technical production) as a mainstream activity: neither dependent on, nor excluding some of those contexts of The West, industrialization, science, modernity and progress, to thus become more common in anthropology generally.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Science > School of the Built Environment > Organisation, People and Technology group
ID Code:67450
Uncontrolled Keywords:design, anthropology, bridges, construction, craftsmanship

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